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Ramesh Ponnuru: Republicans are winning the debate on voter ID

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Ramesh Ponnuru: Republicans are winning the debate on voter ID

Republicans themselves don’t all realize it, but they’re winning the political debate over voting laws.

It’s not just that Republicans are pushing through the laws they favor in multiple states while Democrats in Washington have not been able to enact anything. That difference is mostly a result of the Senate’s 50-50 tie and the filibuster. What’s worse for the Democrats, their attack on Republicans as “vote suppressors” who are instituting a “new Jim Crow” does not seem to be inflicting any political damage.

Republicans aren’t on the defensive on the issue. They feel entirely comfortable defending their position. They have some polling to back them up. And they have forced their critics to make concessions.

The first major political battle over voting laws came in the swing state of Georgia this spring, and it set the tone for the nationwide debate. So it was all the more helpful for Republicans that the opponents of their election changes made critical mistakes.

President Joe Biden helped bring the Georgia Republicans’ new law to national attention by denouncing it. But he also endorsed taking the All-Star game from Atlanta, which predictably went over poorly in the state.

Biden also made easily checked errors, like denouncing an “outrageous” provision to shorten voting hours that didn’t actually exist. And he likened the law to Jim Crow. This rhetorical tack helped to harden Georgia Republicans’ resolve and gave them an easy response to criticism: It was hysterical and ignorant. They pointed out, as well, that many provisions of the law were comparable to, and sometimes even more voter-friendly than, the laws of many heavily Democratic states.

One of the key questions in the debate has been whether voters should have to show photo identification. Democratic politicians and activists hate the idea, but most voters favor it.

In June, Monmouth found that 82% of the public back photo ID for voters. That supermajority included 62% of Democratic voters. Hard as it is for many Democratic activists to believe, nonwhites backed it a bit more than whites did.

The Democrats’ marquee voting-rights bill imposes a national ban on photo-ID requirements for federal elections. It’s an overreach that Republicans can cheerfully oppose — all the more so because they can now point to evidence that such requirements do not reduce voter turnout at all.

Democrats once saw political opportunity in the outrage that the Georgia law inspired. But as their argument against the specific provisions of the legislation collapsed, they had to shift to denouncing the Republicans’ motives. They also had to backpedal on voter identification.

They didn’t always do it gracefully, either. Rep. James Clyburn of South Carolina, the third-ranking House Democrat, said in July that “no Democrat has ever been against voter ID.” In October 2020, he had called it “voter suppression.” Democratic Sen. Raphael Warnock of Georgia attempted the same maneuver.

A “corporate backlash” against Republicans over voting laws got a lot of attention this spring. In previous political controversies, corporate opposition to conservative initiatives has convinced Republicans to back down. As governor of Indiana in 2015, for example, Mike Pence bowed to corporate pressure to weaken a religious-liberty law he had just signed.

But this time the effort fizzled. When hundreds of corporations banded together to issue a statement of support for the right to vote, it ended up being so vague that practically any Georgia Republican could agree with it. (“Voting is the lifeblood of our democracy…”) Georgia-based Coca-Cola sharply criticized the law, but then sounded conciliatory notes after conservatives pushed back.

Brian Kemp, the Republican governor who signed Georgia’s law, is holding up in the polls. In August, he had a higher net approval rating than Biden or either of the state’s Democratic senators.

Majority leader Charles Schumer says he will be bringing another version of voting legislation before the Senate soon. It’s not an effort he can possibly expect will change the law, since there aren’t enough votes to protect it from a filibuster.

What’s still undetermined is how much Democrats will seek to call attention to the issue. If they instead just go through the motions to tell their activists they’re trying, it will be because they, too, can see that this is a debate they’re losing.

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CDOT’s Safety Patrol works to clear highway crashes as quickly as possible to keep traffic moving

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CDOT’s Safety Patrol works to clear highway crashes as quickly as possible to keep traffic moving

The crash that hit Interstate 225 in Aurora at the height of the evening rush hour was garden-variety: A sedan smashed into the back of a sport-utility vehicle, and nobody was hurt.

But the wreck quickly backed up northbound traffic all the same, with the heavily damaged Toyota Camry stuck, its engine dead, in one of the middle lanes near Colfax Avenue.

John “Boston” Alborghetti knew just what to do. Arriving before police, the CDOT Safety Patrol driver first checked to make sure no one was hurt. Then he used his specially outfitted Ford F-250 pickup to nudge the Camry over to the shoulder, where it joined the Jeep that had been hit.

Traffic was moving in all four lanes within five minutes.

Patrollers in the Colorado Department of Transportation’s roadside assistance program have kept tabs on a growing network of metro Denver and Colorado highways for 29 years, offering free help to stranded motorists while assisting authorities at crash scenes. The Safety Patrol recently added new routes in metro Denver to its network and signed up a new sponsor, the Geico insurance company, which will contribute $550,000 a year toward the program’s $6.5 million budget, CDOT says.

Alborghetti’s response on I-225 on the recent Monday evening prioritized safety and speed, since a quicker clearance of the highway lessens the chances for another crash. He left broken glass and debris on the pavement, but the people involved in the crash were safely on the shoulder.

“If (the stalled car) was in the left lane or right lane — not in the middle — I would have kept the lane shut down with my cones and I would have swept the debris up,” said Alborghetti, 50, a no-nonsense Army Reservist with a Boston accent whose nickname was inspired by his upbringing there.

“But people just want to go — I want to open it up quick and fast, get people going.”

Safety Patrol drivers don’t investigate crashes or issue tickets, but they do help responding state troopers and police officers with traffic control and safety. They also can clear most anything that’s blocking the highway, whether it’s a car, a large appliance that’s fallen off a truck — or even an 18-wheeler, which takes two Safety Patrol drivers working in tandem, Alborghetti said.

For three years, he’s been the operational manager for IncidentClear, CDOT’s Safety Patrol contractor. Its drivers assist more than 40,000 motorists a year, CDOT says, between crash responses and helping drivers who need a flat tire changed, a jump-start, extra fuel or lockout assistance.

When needed, the program’s towing partner provides free tows to safe, well-lit locations off the highway.

Eli Imadali, Special to The Denver Post

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol driver, buckles his seat-belt after helping two drivers involved in a crash on I-70 in Denver during his evening shift driving on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

“We see accidents happen right in front of us”

Alborghetti was joined by a Denver Post reporter and photographer on that Monday in early November as he drove nearly 100 miles of metro Denver highways in three and a half hours.

As Alborghetti drove, he kept an eye out for collisions and for vehicles pulled over on the shoulders.

“So as I’m looking, I’m not only looking at this side (of the highway), I’m looking at that side, too,” he said as he neared the Sixth Avenue exit on Interstate 25 near downtown. “Because an accident may happen before CDOT or everybody else knows about it. We see accidents happen right in front of us.”

The afternoon had started quietly. Alborghetti’s first stop was on Interstate 70 near Sheridan Boulevard, where officers were responding to a car traveling the wrong direction in the eastbound lanes. He stopped in the left lane, his truck’s yellow emergency lights flashing, and placed cones to block it off for extra safety.

The driver turned out to be an older man who entered on the wrong ramp. By then, he’d pulled over on the inside shoulder and was talking with the officers. Alborghetti said they asked family members to come and drive the man home.

A half-hour later, while driving on I-25 near University Boulevard, Alborghetti spotted police and a CDOT incident management crew on the other side of the highway. He exited and turned back. They were managing traffic for a food truck that was stranded and blocking the right lane after its back axel busted, throwing the wheels out of alignment.

But this time, there was nothing for him to do, since the truck was upright and couldn’t move on its tires. If it had overturned and “it’s sitting out there, then boom! We will push it,” he said. Instead, Denver police called in a flatbed truck.

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol ...

Eli Imadali, Special to The Denver Post

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol driver, walks at the scene of a food truck spin-out on I-25 in Denver on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

New patrols added on I-270, I-76

The Safety Patrol has nearly two dozen trucks stocked with equipment, extra gas and cleanup materials. Its drivers patrol interstates 25, 70 and 225 as well as the Sixth Avenue Freeway and C-470 in the Denver area; stretches of I-25 near Colorado Springs and Fort Collins; and I-70 in the mountains between Golden and Vail.

In mid-November, the Safety Patrol added new regular patrols on interstates 76 and 270 in metro Denver.

Most shifts cover the morning and evening rush hours, but some Safety Patrol drivers roam the highways during off-peak hours and on weekends, especially on the I-70 mountain stretch. They operate everywhere except construction zones, which have their own safety crews.

“I really want to tell people,” Alborghetti said, that “if you see one of our trucks … move out of the way — because there is something hindering and stopping you from going home to your family, going to work, going out on a hot date or something,” and the Safety Patrol can get traffic moving again.

The Navy veteran lives in Castle Rock and now is in the Army Reserves. He said his most recent deployment was in the last year at the U.S. military’s detention camp at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba. He worked in security at Lockheed Martin’s Jefferson County campus, he said, before joining IncidentClear and the Safety Patrol.

Five years from retirement, he says he enjoys overseeing the patrol crews, while driving routes himself occasionally.

It’s a job that brings gratitude from the people helped by the patrol drivers. But the job also comes with its share of dangers, despite extensive training aimed at minimizing safety risks while working in traffic. Safety Patrol drivers also might be the first ones to arrive at a fatal crash scene — an incident that’s more likely to shut down a highway while it’s sorted out.

The drivers’ pay starts at $18 an hour and increases by $1 each year, Alborghetti said, with drivers eligible for safety bonuses.

For some, the variety is appealing. Drivers see similar patterns of crashes and roadside breakdowns, but each day brings a reshuffled deck — with winter storms throwing an extra wildcard into the mix.

“What’s today, Monday?” Alborghetti said, noting it had been relatively tame. “It’s a free-for-all on Fridays.”

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol ...

Eli Imadali, Special to The Denver Post

Boston Alborghetti, a CDOT Safety Patrol driver, fills out a report after responding to a wrong-way driver on I-70 in Arvada on Monday, Nov. 8, 2021.

Reducing the risk of more crashes

The quiet afternoon would soon give way to a flurry of radio traffic after 5 p.m., as rush-hour traffic grew denser.

But before that happened, Alborghetti talked about how the Safety Patrol responds to crashes. There’s a reason the drivers move quickly, with the program touting an average clearance time of less than 12 minutes.

As traffic backs up and drivers slam on the brakes, each minute brings a greater risk of another crash.

Alborghetti took the ramp from C-470 back onto I-70 as the sun was setting. He passed the stretch in Lakewood where the driver of a runaway semitrailer crashed into stopped traffic in April 2019, setting off a fiery chain-reaction pileup involving 28 vehicles. Four people died, and the driver recently was convicted of vehicular homicide.

The tragedy was a secondary crash, Alborghetti pointed out: That traffic was stopped because of a less-severe crash involving a car, a semitrailer and a school bus that happened five miles up the highway in Wheat Ridge about an hour earlier.

Clearing that one was more complicated than a fender-bender. But he said the time it took prompted hindsight discussions within CDOT and the Safety Patrol that underlined the importance of clearing most crashes quickly, to lessen the traffic backup.

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Broncos’ message entering division-heavy final stretch to season: Why not us?

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Broncos’ message entering division-heavy final stretch to season: Why not us?

Rewarded with multi-year contracts days apart during the Broncos’ bye week, receivers Courtland Sutton and Tim Patrick spent several minutes last Monday expressing gratitude for the organization’s faith in them and recounting the personal adversity they’ve overcome.

The talk then pivoted to the state of the Broncos entering Sunday’s game against the Los Angeles Chargers.

The Broncos are 5-5 and five of their seven remaining games are against AFC West competition. The message from Sutton and Patrick: Why not us?

“If we take care of (the last seven games), we’ll get that (playoff) taste,” Sutton said. “It’s hard to even put into words how bad we want that and how bad we want that for us, the team and the city. It’s been way overdue for the city to be able to have a playoff game here and the Broncos in the playoffs.”

Said Patrick: “Everything is right in front of us. We have five division games left. We win those and we’re in the playoffs. It’s very possible.”

Sutton is right — a real playoff pursuit has been lacking around these parts since winning the Super Bowl in 2015.

And Patrick is right — if the Broncos take advantage of their division-heavy schedule, they will snap their five-year postseason drought.

The Broncos, however, will need a major course correction to be in the division and/or wild card conversation when mid-December rolls around. A couple of facts to consider:

  • Dating back to last year, they have lost five consecutive division games (outscored 144-99), tied for the team’s third-longest slump since the 1970 NFL-AFL merger and the longest since a six-game streak in 2010-11.
  • Since the start of the 2016 season, the Broncos are a woeful 10-21 in AFC West games, worst in the division by 2 1/2 games. Kansas City is 27-5 (two eight-game winning streaks) followed by Las Vegas (14-19) and the Chargers (13-19).

Overall, Denver must play better at home. The Broncos are 21-24 at Mile High since the start of 2016, including 2-3 this year in which they were favored in each game.

“All three of them are really good teams,” coach Vic Fangio said of the Chiefs (7-4), Chargers (6-4) and Raiders (6-5). “Good offenses and good defenses. Kansas City’s playing really good defense now. The Chargers and Raiders have stepped it up defensively. I see complete teams that are led by really good quarterbacks.”

Is the season on the line Sunday? Absolutely.

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Week 12 NFL Picks: Surging New England, back in first place, hosts Tennessee

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Dave Hyde: With Dolphins and Jets in latest Rebuild Bowl, Patriots again show how it’s done

Game of the week

Tennessee at New England

The Patriots, back atop the AFC East thanks to Buffalo’s issues, are a 6 1/2-point favorite over the Titans, who inexplicably lost to Houston at home last week. Major credit to rookie quarterback Mac Jones for helping New England dig out of its 1-3 start.

Patriots 24, Titans 17

Lock of the week

L.A. Rams at Green Bay

When last seen, the Rams and their cast of All-Stars had no answer for San Francisco. They’ve had two weeks to re-group and their assignment is a Packers offense that rolled up 467 yards in last week’s loss at Minnesota. The Packers are a one-point favorite and they coast to a win.

Packers 35, Rams 21

Upset of the week

Pittsburgh at Cincinnati

The Bengals are a 4 1/2-point favorite and ended a two-game slide with last week’s win at Las Vegas. But we’re not ready to buy stock in Cincinnati, which visits the Broncos next month. Pittsburgh keeps pace in the jumbled AFC North as Ben Roethlisberger improves to 16-3 all-time in Cincy.

Steelers 29, Bengals 24


Around the AFC: Upset win over Tampa Bay would put Colts RB Jonathan Taylor in MVP conversation

Taylor’s MVP pursuit. Indianapolis running back Jonathan Taylor leads the NFL with 1,122 rushing yards and 13 touchdowns, but the Colts are a middling team (6-5) so can he really be considered a part of the MVP conversation? Yes, if the Colts can beat Tampa Bay Sunday. In last week’s rout at Buffalo, Taylor became the first player in league history to have at least 175 rushing yards, four rushing touchdowns and one touchdown catch in the same game. Taylor was the fifth player all-time with four rushing scores/one receiving score in a game and the first since Seattle’s Shaun Alexander in September 2002.

Houston screwing up. The Texans are going to screw up and not draft in the top three, right? Houston’s first blunder was winning its opener against Jacksonville. Its second blunder was snapping an eight-game losing streak and shocking Tennessee last week. The Texans entered Week 12 with the fourth pick behind Detroit, Jacksonville and the Jets. Houston hosts the Jets Sunday and a win might push the Texans out of the top five. General manager Nick Caserio’s looming decision: Draft a quarterback in the first round or stick with Tyrod Taylor and build the non-quarterback foundation while waiting for an option.

Judon free-agent home run. New England signed pass rusher Matthew Judon away from Baltimore in March with a four-year, $54.4 million contract. In 76 games for the Ravens, Judon had 34 1/2 sacks. In 11 games for the Patriots, he has 10 1/2. Judon reminds us of the impact Denver native Calais Campbell had on Jacksonville in 2017 after signing as a free agent (career-high 14 1/2 sacks in helping the Jaguars to the AFC title game). Judon’s Patriots host Tennessee on Sunday and have allowed the league’s fewest points per game (16.1).


Around the NFC: Philadelphia using running game to climb back into playoff contention

Eagles running wild. The Broncos’ defense shouldn’t feel too bad about being gashed for 216 yards rushing by Philadelphia in Week 10; the Eagles are running through and over most opponents. The Eagles have climbed to second in the league in rushing (153.4 yards per game) after gaining 236, 176, 216 and 242 yards in the last four games (3-1 record).  During those four games, they have rushed 46, 39, 39 and 50 times. The Eagles (5-6) are in the NFC wild-card hunt and play at the lowly Giants Sunday.

Garrett gets gate. Jason Garrett’s two claims to fame during his 26-game tenure as the Giants’ offensive coordinator, which ended with his firing after losing to Tampa Bay: He told the media he preferred to be called “Coach,” instead of “Jason,” and his offense finished 31st and 25th in scoring. This can only be viewed as a last gasp for coach Joe Judge, whose second year started by throwing a red flag against the Broncos to challenge a scoring play (which are automatically reviewed). The Giants need a total housecleaning — general manager/coach/quarterback — but what are the chances ownership can get it right? Not great so the Giants aren’t a very attractive franchise at this point.

Elimination game? Minnesota travels to San Francisco in a matchup of 5-5 teams on two-game winning streaks. A wild card spot is the best playoff route for the Vikings and 49ers so this game has major tie-breaking implications. We’ll go with the 49ers, who are literally driving opponents crazy. Against the Rams in Week 10, the 49ers had scoring drives of 18 plays-88 yards-11:03, 11-91-7:52 and 10-31-6:54. At Jacksonville last week, they opened with a scoring drive of 20 plays-87 yards-13:05; the longest possession in terms of time since at least 2000.

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